Oftentimes, Americans assume everyone speaks English–or at least should. But in the international business world, it’s a good idea to be bi- or multilingual.
For African-American businesswoman Shari Linton who founded the ‘My Single City’ dating app, being known to speak more than one language has helped her in business in Miami, FL. So she brushed up on her high school Spanish. “I am the ultimate minority in a city that is known for being the gateway to South America. I learned Spanish in the third grade until senior year in high school. Unfortunately, I still don’t speak Spanish fluently. Learning another language isn’t always easy, yet I knew that learning Spanish would make me more competitive in the workplace. I believe that I was offered multiple jobs because I am bilingual. Companies want to know that they can assign you to any client or send you to any country and you can get the job done,” she says.
And as the world becomes more of a global marketplace, the need is even more urgent. “It is important to learn languages because we are fast becoming a global culture. That means for every product you make, the possibility for global exposure or exposure to other countries grows exponentially each year as social media continues to grow. By not adapting your products for other countries in other languages, you are limiting your revenue potential,” says Jazmin Truesdale, CEO of Mino Enterprises, who is fluent in English and Spanish and literate in Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, French and Hindi.
Having a working knowledge of Spanish has allowed Linton to reach a more diverse clientele. “Knowing Spanish in Miami has allowed me to market my app to a demographic that I would not be able to reach otherwise. Although there are many languages in the world, I believe that there are a select few ones that are more sought after in corporate America. Languages such as English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese are the main languages used in corporate America,” she explains.
Besides helping you to boost your own small business, knowing more than one language could help you land a great job. “Having a second language is always a leg up. Even between two unevenly matched candidates, I might choose a Spanish-speaker to fill a job over a more qualified monolingual candidate,” says Jonathan Riedel, CEO of Forword Translations, Inc.
When deciding what language to learn, take at look at your industry and see what the demands are in terms of foreign language speakers. “If you work in human rights, many languages are good. Middle East policy? Arabic speakers are in high demand. But you can’t go wrong with Spanish. Spanish is useful in most fields, especially if you do direct service; there are many opportunities to practice it in the U.S.; and it’s fairly easy to learn in that it has many cognates and its syntax is close to English, relative to other languages,” explains Riedel.
It’s not hard to get started–though don’t expect to learn overnight. It will take dedication. “Everyone learns differently, but the best way to get started is to immerse yourself in that language. Start watching films, listening to songs and find your passion for learning that particular language. Doing this will make it easier when you start taking courses. I, personally, enjoy being in a classroom, therefore I would sign up for a language school or classes at a local college,” offers Linton.
“I love soap operas and I learned Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese from watching soap operas on TV and YouTube. I learned Hindi from watching Bollywood movies and developed my pronunciation from singing along to the songs,” Truesdale shares.
Adds Riedel, “Most people don’t have the luxury of taking a few months or years to live abroad, so if you’re planning to learn it solely for business, it’s important to remember that you will probably have to carve out a significant portion of time every week to studying, practicing, and taking lessons from a tutor or class, at least at the outset, and constant practice after that. People who become fully fluent without structure are the exception, not the rule.” He suggests “looking for free courses in your area. Ask at churches, libraries, or community centers, e.g.”